Power: What Is It Good For?

Martin Schwoerer
by Martin Schwoerer
power what is it good for

Who doesn’t like a proper wacky duel? Like the one where James May raced a Ferrari against a camel, or when the guys from TopGear did a “train vs Aston Martin” from London to Cannes?

As in the case of the proverbial hare and tortoise, when you set two unlikely opponents against each other, you get some entertaining results — and you might even prove a point. That’s what Germany’s AutoBild (print edition, March 5) tried to do when it tested the assumption that power = speed.

They raced the slowest E-class Mercedes station wagon against the fastest one, on German public roads, over a distance of 1,000 KMs. It was E63 AMG vs E200 CDI; 525 HP against 136 HP; 6.2L vs 2.1L displacement, V8 against Diesel-L4. 0-60 in 4.6 s vs 10.9 s. And not to forget, purchase prices of €42,483 against €108,409. So, what happened? Not what you might think…

But first, some more data and some rules. The AMG had its standard 250 km/h speed limiter left in place, and both cars had optional 80-liter fuel tanks fitted. Drivers had to stick to speed limits — this wasn’t supposed to turn into a Kanonenkugel-Run. The route was from Flensburg in the northern tip of Germany, down to the Austrian border. This is a relatively rural Autobahn that had plenty of unrestricted stretches and goes through only one major conurbation, in Hamburg.

The driver of the AMG wrote about an uncomfortably hard ride, and more to the point, reported that the super-station wagon fostered a stressful style of driving. You push it, as he wrote, up to the limit, then hit the brakes as soon as somebody who underestimates your speed moves into the left lane, then you push it again. In heavier traffic, the ratio of power-to-freedom was perceived as particularly irksome. The major concern, however, was the constant need to re-fuel. With a fuel consumption of 13.7 MPG, the AMG had to stop for gas after only 422 KM, seriously slowing down its average to 124 km/h.

Meanwhile, the Diesel enabled a flowing, relaxed driving style with a softer ride, lower noise, but yet enough power — the E200 CDI apparently felt quite comfortable in the 160-200 km/h zone. And the Diesel’s average of 28.7 MPG meant that re-fuelling could wait for a few hours, until after the 750 KM mark, at which point it had averaged a speed of 125 km/h.

So, despite all the long stretches where the AMG seldom had to slow down to speeds below 200 km/h, one of the world’s fastest station wagons reached the chequered flag in exactly 13 minutes before the oil-burner. Thirteen minutes gain, €184 additional fuel costs: is that what power amounts to?

As surprising as the results may seem, they match my experience in Europe. If you absolutely push it while driving in the dead of night, you can sightly better an average of 130 km/h, but your licence will be at risk. Take it slow, drive safe, and your average sinks to 110-120.

Note to AMG: on modern congested roads, power equals nothing more than frustration. If you really want people to associate pimptastic with fast, you need to equip your cars with 300L tanks — and preferably a built-in urinal.

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5 of 46 comments
  • Niky Niky on Mar 11, 2010

    Onramp? 40 mph - 60 mph? Meh... all that takes is tires and about half of the STi's ponies.

    • See 2 previous
    • R H R H on Mar 11, 2010

      We don't take it on all season @ 40mph. We go a lot slower normally. Our daily driver is 0-60 in about 11-12, and we end up travelling either not during rush hour, or stopping & waiting for a break in traffic where we can hammer the accelerator. There aren't alot of people out where we live ((town of sub 30k). I'd imagine other people stop & wait or stupidly merge in at slower speeds causing everyone to slam on the brakes. Btw: I take it at 40+ on performance tires (potenza re070/summer) in the summer or slower during the winter (dunlop winter sport) in the STi. No way I'd buy "no-seasons" for that car. We can get away with accelerating and hitting the ramp slower during winter/snow since people around there drive MUCH slower (I've seen sub 30mph) if there is any moisture.

  • DC Bruce DC Bruce on Mar 11, 2010

    This is really the wrong test, if you think about it for more than 10 seconds. Making time in a freeway/autobahn environment is about consistent speed . . . and there's no freeway or autobahn anywhere that has so little traffic (never mind the police) that it is possible to make a consistent speed in excess of the capabilities of just about any reasonably decent car -- AMGs, BMW Ms and their ilk are unnecessary. The top speed and acceleration advantages they offer are neither needed nor usable in this environment. On the other hand, take a trip on a mountain 2-lane like, say, between here in The Capital of the Free World and Davis, West Virginia (look it up; highest town in the state) and the additional power (power=acceleration) becomes quite useful. It is the difference between being able to pass a slower vehicle on a short straight section of road (possibly going uphill) and having to wait for a downhill or longer straight section. To be sure, neither the super-powerful vehicle nor the average powerful vehicle will record a blistering average speed (in absolute terms), but in relative terms, the super-powerful vehicle may be significantly faster (and being about 220 US miles, neither vehicle is likely to need refueling during the trip). IMHO, the more serious question is not not how much horsepower is too much, but rather, how much cornering force capability is too much, given that achieving maximum lateral acceleration seems to involve punishing tire/suspension combinations.

  • Tassos Chinese owned Vollvo-Geely must have the best PR department of all automakers. A TINY maker with only 0.5-0.8% market share in the US, it is in the news every day.I have lost count how many different models Volvo has, and it is shocking how FEW of each miserable one it sells in the US market.Approximately, it sells as many units (TOTAL) as is the total number of loser models it offers.
  • ToolGuy Seems pretty reasonable to me. (Sorry)
  • Luke42 When I moved from Virginia to Illinois, the lack of vehicle safety inspections was a big deal to me. I thought it would be a big change.However, nobody drives around in an unsafe car when they have the money to get their car fixed and driving safely.Also, Virginia's inspection regimine only meant that a car was safe to drive one day a year.Having lived with and without automotive safety inspections, my confusion is that they don't really matter that much.What does matter is preventing poverty in your state, and Illinois' generally pro-union political climate does more for automotive safety (by ensuring fair wages for tradespeople) than ticketing poor people for not having enough money to maintain their cars.
  • ToolGuy When you are pulled over for speeding, whether you are given a ticket or not should depend on how attractive you are.Source: My sister 😉
  • Kcflyer What Toyota needs is a true full size body on frame suv to compete with the Expedition and Suburban and their badge engineered brethren. The new sequoia and LX are too compromised in capacity by their off road capabilities that most buyers will never use.